Wednesday, June 26, 2013

James Gandolfini

            James Gandolfini could have created the role of Tony Soprano without any dialogue at all. He had an uncanny ability to express the entire spectrum of human emotions on his unlovely face.  The eyes alone told you what he was thinking.
            I was such a fan of James Gandolfini, who died this week at the age of 51. I think his television character Tony Soprano in the Home Box Office production "The Sopranos" will join the likes of Candide, Blanche DuBois, Lieutenant Kije, Willy Loman and other figures in our drama, music and literature who have had a life beyond fiction. Maybe even Hamlet.
            Most of the media response to Gandolfini’s death at the age of 51 seems to think that age 51
was too young to die and that if the actor had taken better care of himself, he’d still be with us.
             I read the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s song “Temporary Like Achilles” again, expecting to see some reference to the Iliad and the choice of leading a short life full of glory or a long life full of very little. The title, however, was about all Dylan had to say on the subject. The lyrics could have been made up on the spot.
            Some of the news stories used Gandolfini’s death to preach about the virtues of a low-fat diet. (The actor had eaten paté and shrimp for dinner.) I’m sure somewhere there were sermons mentioning his obesity or his cigar-smoking. But we don’t know enough to judge Gandolfini or others whose lifestyles may have contributed to an early death. Maybe their choices were what allowed them to reveal themselves to us in such a public way. Maybe the choices were crutches. Maybe their minds were just elsewhere. Who knows?
            I don’t think the death of a genius should be used as an occasion for sermonizing. I think we should be grateful for what we got, not what their longer life might have given us (look at J.D. Salinger.) I think their spouses and children should be grateful and not blame them for spending time and energy on extending their earthly days.
            My brother Les, speaking about a talented departed friend with bad habits, said “We respected his right to live his life as he wanted to live it.”
            Really, we owe them that for the moments of revelation they gave us.